By Asad Ismi
On December 3-4, 2011, a historic meeting of all 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries took place in Caracas, Venezuela. It was a gathering that significantly advanced the Latin American Revolution.
The Presidents of these nations assembled to inaugurate a new regional organization called The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which includes all these countries but excludes the United States and Canada, who were not invited to join.
CELAC looks set to become one of the world’s most powerful regional blocs. It is aimed at deepening the integration of Latin American and Caribbean states, freeing them all from the threat of U.S. imperialism and promoting social development.
Eleven Latin American countries have already made considerable progress toward attaining these objectives. Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have left-wing governments that have been implementing the Latin American Revolution since 1998. Their collaboration has dramatically reduced U.S. power in Latin America. Now these countries, through CELAC, are broadening such cooperation to include all of Latin America and the Caribbean, thereby excluding U.S. power from this entire region.
Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, hosted the inaugration. “For how long,” he asked the delegates, “are we going to be the backwards periphery, exploited and denigrated? Enough! Here we are putting down the fundamental building block for Latin American unity, independence, and development. If we hesitate, we are lost!… CELAC is born with a new spirit; it is a platform for people’s economic, political ,and social development.”
“It’s the death sentence for the Monroe Doctrine,” Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua, said of the birth of CELAC. The Monroe Doctrine was declared by the U.S. in 1823 to bar European nations from further exploitation of Latin America and to preserve the whole area for U.S. imperialism.
Since 1945 alone, the U.S. has subjected Latin America to 18 military dictatorships and the ravages of neoliberalism. The dictatorships, collectively, killed a million people, and neoliberalism has impoverished many countries.
The dictatorships were approved by the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS). As one observer put it, “CELAC has been put forth by many participating presidents as an organization to replace the OAS, empower Latin American and Caribbean unity, and create a more equal and just society on the region’s own terms.”
“CELAC is an extraordinary reaffirmation of independence and sovereignty, a clear message that the reign of divisiveness and domination of the OAS is over,” said Dr. Maria Paez Victor, a Venezuelan-Canadian sociologist. “Since its inception after World War II, the OAS has been the instrument of the financial, military, and organizational power of the United States and its partner, Canada. The OAS accepted and abetted dictators, coup d’états, blockades, and repressive waves of violence, all in the name of fighting the Cold War. It was famously dubbed ‘The Ministry of Colonization’ by a Cuban minister. Knowing its infamous history in the region, the U.S. will undoubtedly attempt to undermine CELAC, but the Latin American and Caribbean countries will no longer be caught by surprise.”
Asked if the U.S. will try to sabotage CELAC’s creation, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s foreign minister, replied, “Historically it has been so… there are no reasons to think otherwise… [but] current conditions permit the countries in the region to effectively resist U.S. domination. Today there are certain very favourable circumstances, which are the great political will of the governments in the region and the great political consciousness of our peoples… CELAC’s moment is now because the conditions have matured. We have a continent that is more awake, more independent, that acts with greater liberty… Today, we are arriving at a special moment in our history where the progressive, democratic, patriotic, transformative, revolutionary, diverse forces of the continent have been able to place on the region’s agenda a fundamental point: advancing toward a project of unity.”
Raul Castro, Cuba’s President, said at the CELAC meeting: “It would be a serious mistake to not recognize that Latin America and the Caribbean have changed, that we can’t be treated as we were in the past. We have had to work hard to confront the burden of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and one can expect a firm regional determination to defend the independence we have reached.” He called CELAC’s inauguration “the most important event to have taken place in Latin America for the past 100 years,” and celebrated it as “a step towards realizing Simón Bolivar’s project to unify the Latin American continent.”
Bolivar liberated Latin America from Spanish colonialism and called for Latin American integration and unity, partly to prevent U.S. domination of the region. Bolivar started the struggle for Latin American independence and unity almost two centuries ago and, in 1829, said, “The United States appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of freedom.”
The 33 CELAC countries constitute a powerful regional bloc and are now the globe’s third largest economy. They have a combined population of 600 million, a GDP of $6 trillion, contain the largest oil reserves on the planet, and are the leading food exporter in the world. Politically, economically and socially, the 11 left-wing governments within CELAC are showing the world the way forward. While North America and Europe stagnate in economic crisis and austerity, the CELAC area’s growth rate in 2010 was more than 6% — twice that of the U.S.
Even more importantly, Latin America has its lowest poverty rate in 20 years. As one observer put it, “These numbers reflect the success of the region’s social programs and anti-poverty initiatives.”
According to Latin American journalist Aram Aharonian, “The neoliberal solutions proposed (or better, imposed) today, of generalized austerity and dismantling public services, to try to save capitalism in crisis and restart growth are absurd. They constitute the surest manner of aggravating even further the crisis and hasten the system with greater speed toward the precipice. Today, our region [Latin America] is the only space in the world that has resisted the global economic capitalist crisis [and] which has achieved a great global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activism.”
While the capitalist crisis in North America and Europe has led to massive spending cutbacks, high unemployment, and rising poverty, the progressive Latin American countries have avoided the brunt of the crisis by increasing their spending on social programs and infrastructure and trading more with one another rather than with Europe and North America. As Dilma Roussef, Brazil’s President, pointed out, “In Brazil we have [rising] employment while in Europe unemployment grows. We aren’t going to allow jobs to be exported to other countries.”
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, explained: “The space opened by the CELAC provides a great opportunity to expand the commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean in a way that does not depend on the precarious markets of the U.S. and Europe.” For Morales, a main goal of CELAC is to “implement politics of solidarity, with complementary instead of competitive commerce to resolve social problems…” Morales emphasized the “terminal and structural crisis of capitalism,” adding, “We have to establish the bases for a new model, for socialism, neo-socialism, 21st century socialism.”
Solidarity is the key to Latin America’s success. As one observer stated: “CELAC is about cooperation, social justice, and benefiting the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.” CELAC is not aimed at helping corporations increase profits, as NAFTA and the European Union are. The objective is rather to use regional integration to reduce poverty, increase literacy, and widely distribute social benefits such as free education and medical care.
CELAC has pledged to attempt to eliminate illiteracy in the region by 2015, and to establish a commission that addresses the problems of poverty and hunger. As seen in the experience of the 11 left-wing governments in CELAC, having a healthier, better educated population relieved of poverty actually expands their domestic and regional markets and so is also economically beneficial.
CELAC includes the right-wing governments of Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, which all have close relations with the United States. But even these states cannot ignore the increasing unification of Latin America and have to adapt to a political environment dominated by progressive governments. The momentum generated by nearly a dozen left-wing states in Latin America is so strong that the remaining conservative regimes are being carried along with it. Faced with the question — “Are you independent Latin American nations or puppets of Washington?” – they have to answer: “We are Latin American.”
In thus seeking good relations with progressive governments in the region, the conservative regimes end up adopting leftist policies such as social programs that reduce poverty at both national and regional levels, especially as the process of integration expands.
CELAC is the latest in a series of integration triumphs for the 11 left-wing countries advancing the Latin American Revolution. These successful integrative measures include UNASUR, (a parliament and military alliance for South America), the Bank of the South (which will support social development and reduce poverty), Telesur (a television network for South America), PetroAmerica (a multinational oil company created by seven South American and Caribbean governments that will promote popular development), and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA, a progressive trade alliance of eight countries, which is aimed at advancing social justice and human well-being). [See my articles in the June 2010 and July/ August 2010 Monitor issues for details about these integration initiatives].
These six unification triumphs in a row signify the profound transformation of Latin America and the Caribbean from U.S. vassal to an increasingly independent force, from neoliberal failure to socialist and social democratic success. This makes the region the best example for world development. Latin Americans have rejected the economics of looting and élite enrichment enforced at gunpoint by Washington, and have chosen to take care of each other; to eliminate poverty and illiteracy in their countries, and to raise the living standards of everyone rather than filling the coffers of a few.
This spirit of cooperation and togetherness is what has made them politically, economically, and socially successful. Their message to the world is simple: “Take care of the people and there will be no economic crisis: together we stand, divided we fall.”
Published in The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, March 2012
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He is author of the radio documentary The Latin American Revolution which has been aired on 40 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 33 million people. The documentary can be heard on this website under the category “audio”. He is also author of the anthology with the same title which can be ordered from the CCPA. This article is the eleventh in a series on the Latin American Revolution.